Lindsay Robertson and TJ Dawe perform in A Sad-Ass Cabaret. Photo by Diane Smithers.
Lindsay Robertson and TJ Dawe perform in A Sad-Ass Cabaret. Photo by Diane Smithers.

Fringe superstar TJ Dawe, who I admittedly had never seen before, pairs up with his partner Lindsay Robertson for an hour of stripped-down songs and storytelling. This show is a tear-jerker, as the title so elegantly tells us, and if the stories aren’t enough to pull at our heartstrings, Robertson’s raw and hauntingly beautiful voice will steal your heart.

Dawe tells stories about the tragic lives of Hank Williams, Judy Garland, Bessie Smith and Sufjan Stevens. He speaks at a rapid pace, and while jarring at first, it effectively keeps up the pace of a show that could easily slow to a sad rhythm.

Between each story, Dawe backs up on stage to turn the microphone to Lindsay Robertson, who plays covers of each artist’s music with an ease and goose-bump inducing level of talent. She also takes on a subtle energy of each musician, so that each new artist feels to be at a different calibre of sadness. This nuanced performance is beautiful to watch.

This performance is simple. The show is sad, but also has moments of humour that help to keep us from disengaging. This is particularly true with the stories of Bessie Smith, a black singer from Tennessee who fights anyone who gets in her way, including going onstage after being stabbed and playing as if nothing had happened.

Dawe tells the stories of these musicians with such personal details that it feels like he is sharing the intimate lives of his best friends. The form does get a little stale at times though, as we come to know the back and forth pattern of story and song.

Highlights include Lindsay Robertson’s breathtaking rendition of Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow’” and the back and forth between Robertson and Dawe with Stevens’ lyrics from “Fourth of July” (“We’re all going to die”), wrapped inside “Love is incomprehensible”.

A Sad-Ass Cabaret reveals the power of sad music and the way that we all relate to the struggles of these musicians.

A Sad-Ass Cabaret continues at the Havana Theatre on Commercial Drive as part of the Vancouver Fringe Festival. Visit vancouverfringe.com for tickets and information.